(Better) Realized: Stop confusing satisfaction with settling.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Grab a mug of tea and get comfy; it's time for a flashback. One of those instances where we must go back in order to go forward for the sake of context.

At the ripe old age of 22, I knew what people in their 30s and 40s wish they'd known about the world at that age. But you shouldn't know these things if you don't have to, because your twenties are for fun sex and finding yourself.

This is not to say I had totally evolved at that point in my life. Far from it. Still, a complicated, messy relationship had forced me to establish personal boundaries much earlier than most, and my position as the middle child of a manic depressive had taught me a thing or two about self-preservation. I was career (not college) driven for the sake of survival and working to shed the emotional scabs left by my many life experiences.

I was a shy, well-behaved child and the same could be said for my teenage years. I seldom rocked the boat or broke the rules, save for a cartilage piercing created with the help of a safety pin and a friend, but I was far from complacent. Inside that stare-at-the-floor exterior lived a soul so strong-willed, it seemed I was impossible to break. People tried; people failed.

Just a year into my early twenties, I had reached a sweet spot: I loved my job, had many great friends and coworkers, and coworkers who were friends. I worked out every day and had a peaceful relationship with my body. I woke up every morning, bright and early, excited to live my life. I was also totally and completely content to be single. I had long since distanced myself from that life-defining, messy relationship. I had been on several dates with agenda-less young men who were sweet and kind and fun to be around. I was happy. Most the time, blissfully so. I didn't spend my days pining for more money or a fancy life, and a relationship was not a priority.

For the first time in my life, I was totally and completely content to just be me.

One Saturday night in April 2003, I was barhopping around town with friends, a rare occasion for me. We had come full circle, back to the bar where I'd left my car, and I said my goodbyes. Just oooonnnneee more drink, Sarah? Come oooonnnn. And so I agreed to just one more. As fate would have it, the kindest, most amazing soul, in the form of a dark haired, doe-eyed fellow, was in the bar that night. A friend of a friend who lived hours away and was only in town for one night.

Spoiler alert: I married him.

I've spent a lot of time thinking and talking about that night. About the amalgam that had to occur for us to have met.  The world works in mysterious ways, and I will always and forever be thankful that it facilitated our unlikely pairing. But I've long since felt that it was more than just dumb luck and good timing that led me to Mario. More than anything, it was my head space.

You see, even a few short months before that, I'm not sure I would have had the openness necessary to see him for what he was: my soulmate. In order to love someone properly, you have to love yourself. You have to own your own happiness. Because no one, no matter how wonderful they are, can fill in the blanks created by deep-rooted discontent. In the way people create vision boards to unlock their dreams, I had found my way to satisfaction despite an imperfect life. It took a lot of perseverance, years spent shedding the people and things that held me back, to get where I was.

Had I not done the work necessary to enjoy the phase of life I was in, I very well might have missed out on one of the two greatest things that has ever happened to me. And that, my friends, would have been one hell of a tragedy.

Many chapters in my life and marriage have been written since that fateful night, some of which have been chronicled here. And every so often I come to a realization: I've lost that sense of satisfaction. The hard-earned ability to find happiness where I am right now. To not let outside noise and rigid thinking affect the fundamental way I feel about life. Oh, to feel that tingle of excitement in my belly each morning!

I've talked a lot lately about the perils of my job search. A 4-year degree carries little weight when it comes to skilled labor in the healthcare sector, and years spent being a mom and student have left me with a thoroughly unimpressive work history. So I agonized, applied to 10 patient care jobs, read all 10 rejection emails as they trickled in, and then agonized some more. I went round and round in my head and had the conversational equivalent of hand-wringing while poor Mario let me get it out (more frequently than I'm proud of), always showing nothing but the utmost compassion for my anxious ruminating.

I interviewed for The Perfect Job several weeks ago, and in response to my second follow-up email, was told they would be making a decision by the 20th. The 20th came and went and I resigned myself to the fact it was a long shot anyway. Then I had an epiphany: What if, instead of obsessing over The Perfect Job, the job that fit my established timeline and carefully constructed expectations, I applied for a less than perfect position that would get my foot in the door and allow me to move up the system? What's more, what if I actually applied because it sounded, well, fun? A job I wanted to do and wouldn't mind continuing to do if I didn't get accepted into grad school in the first application cycle.

What if I could be satisfied where I am right now? If history has taught me anything, it's that satisfaction can lead to wonderful, unexpected things. And so I started hitting the "apply" button on other positions within the hospital. Ones I could definitely score and would enjoy doing... despite the fact they don't fit neatly into my pre-grad school parameters. For the first time since embarking on this journey through the world of academia, I was okay where I was and open to any and all opportunities.

Worse case scenario? In 3 years, when Kiddo is done with high school, I can apply to programs all over the country and we can move again.

Life hadn't boxed me in, I had. Just like that, I felt a renewed sense of calm. And a tiny tingle in my belly at the prospect of finding perfection in the imperfect.

And you know what?  This morning I got a call for a second interview. I'm still in the running for The Perfect Position. Thank goodness they made me wait those extra 10 days. They were agonizing, yes, but also exactly what I needed to get my head out of my ass. The moment I turned myself over to the experience, let go of all those preconceived notions, life opened back up. What's funny is, now I'm much less concerned about whether or not I get the job. It's almost not the point anymore.

Pursuing happiness, whatever the cost, is never the same as settling.

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